Us and Them

Olive Skin, courtesy Derek Eller Gallery
Text by Despina Stokou

It has been a long time since my last post, SO many more eggshels these days...

Us And Them

The day before my recent opening in New York, I received an email from a collector I know and like in Los Angeles reacting to the press release. I don't wish to publicize a private conversation, but I do think it is interesting to expand on the public debate it touches upon. In her email (yes it is a HER) she declares herself happy with the direction the US is taking right now, a booming economy, strong trade deals, strong foreign policy positions. Blatant violations of basic human rights and civic liberties do not seem to be on her radar. She is straightforward enough to caution me against the direct impact the “liberal stuff I spew” will have on my sales; as the majority of my collectors are, like her, mostly satisfied, mostly tax-cut-giddy; lets face it, completely unwilling to question the current status quo.

'White Lies are the lies we (the small folk) tell ourselves to maintain a status quo that ultimately works against us' Is the answer I give when they ask me about the show title...

And there you have it folks; a centuries old split. Art, by definition, is mirroring the socioeconomic context it takes place in. More often than not what is reflected in that mirror is a middle finger. Art is gut. Art is a punch. Art is obnoxious, untamed, uncontrolled, the very essence of TOO MUCH. Art does not have a gender, but it absolutely has an orientation and that is forward ----- onwards ------ towards change. On the other side of this stretching exercise, art has always been a status symbol for the ruling class, and while not directly commissioned anymore, Medici style, it is definitely still for the most part subject to and financed by the 1% of this society, that has us eating with bamboo forks at garden parties. Not that I have anything against garden parties, especially if you consider half of the people there have dirty fingernails from the studio.

Us And Them in a tug of war of beauty, aesthetics and yes politics… A series of works I did over the summer sources interview abstracts with Helen Molesworth (who was then recently fired from MoCA). Molesworth has been very vocal about the need for institutions and curators to challenge the current art status quo. A status quo that was not build with every one in mind, ahem ahem... and still carries some rather outdated falsehoods, which inevitably spill over into the art market. Men's work is somehow still inherently considered more valuable than women’s. This is probably linked to the (false) notion that men’s work is sourcing a universal subject matter ( the epitome of white privillige is to consider yourself universal Helen comments). Women’s work on the other hand is considered “personal”, work from artists of color is “identity politics”… and we can go on. Institutions have a big challenge ahead of them in 2018. They need to not only course correct their own collections and exhibition choices (Baltimore Museum is doing just that!), but also help educate their biggest sponsors and board of trustees that value, like art, does not have a penis. Molesworth was never shy in prioritizing art over stroking the museum board’s Egos, many would argue this cost her her job.

We tend to think of the art scene as a separate place, a more idealistic, progressive place. It is not. It is in fact a smaller, thus more accented part of the society we live in.

A recent art market trend has collecting speculations turn to black male artists as the newest “money making chip”. Black male artists are the new Old White Lady. While the irony of making money on „rediscovering“ artists you have long blocked access to; money you will then pour into conservative lobbying interests, which work to directly undermine the socioeconomic circumstances that instigated that very art, does not escape me. But I will take it. The arch of the moral universe is loooong and we need them Nikes to get there.

So my answer to my conservative friend is this: Buy the art that makes you uncomfortable! If it is strong enough to get through to you, if nothing else, it will probably make you even richer one day... After all I am a Future Old White Lady!

Until then let us agree that, in the words of recently politically awaken Taylor Swift, Haters Gonna Hate hate hate hate hate hate…Shake it off. Shake it off.

And Vote.

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